The first thing Vince Staples says on Winter In Prague is, “They told me they need a leader, I told them niggas my feature price / Music don’t mean nothing to me if I ain’t eatin’ right.” That’s it. The article’s over.
Ten and a half months after quietly dropping his debut tape Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1, Vince released Winter In Prague to little fanfare. It was a 10-song EP (minus two interludes and one instrumental) with Cali producer Michael Uzowuru, and the only online review downplayed its value because it had “no actual connection with Prague, winter, or any focused, cohesive direction at all.” Bummer.
The tape does have a connection to winter – it’s cold, bleak, dark. In terms of Prague, the reviewer missed that reference (notwithstanding its irrelevance to the sounds of the music), but asking for a “focused, cohesive direction” from Vince Staples is like asking a homeless guy for directions. It’s not that he doesn’t have it in him, but what nerve.
Vince has never been here for anyone’s satisfaction. When he made his first appearance on Earl Sweatshirt’s “epaR” he didn’t even want to rap, but people were pushing him to do music and Mac Miller was such a fan he produced a whole tape for him just to hear Vince rap more. So he did.
At first, part of his appeal was that he didn’t sound like he wanted to rap. He opens Winter In Prague in this lazy drawl, like a kid who’s being forced to speak in front of the class. I liked that. Here was a guy who didn’t give a shit about rap yet rapped better than all his peers who did. The irony was tickling. It echoed Jay Z’s shameless approach to art as a hustle.
When Vince started treating art like art, however, I shunned him, perhaps unfairly. I’ve written about this before, but succinctly, he had to start rapping like he cared, and the wink in his raps became more like a tap dance. It was for his livelihood. I couldn’t blame him.
But the deadpan of his early raps, in contrast to the enthusiastic, almost goofy delivery on Summertime ’06, gave his words gravity, and Winter In Prague excels because of this. “I ain’t never really care about shit,” he says on “Lord,” “soon as my father abandon his kids, I was down for the problems.” In no uncertain terms, Vince lays the groundwork for the path he’s taken in life. Later on in the same song he says, “If first or second Corinthians can give a nigga spinnin’ rims or Christina Milian, I’d probably give that shit a chance.” It’s not that he’s an Atheist, but his God is a cruel one.
The beats on Winter In Prague are admittedly a bit rough and almost amateur, but that’s exactly what gives the tape (and Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1) its charm. Unpolished and raw, Uzowuru’s beats are a perfect match for Vince’s relentless pessimism. He raps as if it isn’t gonna get him anywhere. There are no delusions of grandeur. This is just another job to him.
This lack of rap reverence has been a constant thread in his personality, and it came to a boiling point last week when he admitted to not understanding why the ‘90s get so much credit in hip-hop. Vince is without a doubt one of the smartest rappers doing it right now, so you could tell he was saying it with a glint in his eye, as if to convey, “Yeah I know, but fuck all that.”
What I took from his comments was the effort to stop holding up the ‘90s as the end all, be all of rap music. Yes, every piece of art is created within a continuum that includes all art before and after it, but that does not keep any individual work from having its own merits. Just because they’re not the same merits as those valued 20 years ago does not mean they aren’t legitimate.
Vince was four years old when The War Report came out. He grew up in the ‘00s so the nostalgia factor makes that era more important to him than any other. Anyone who’s been following his music from the start couldn’t have been shocked by his comments. That’s why it pays for people to hear Winter in Prague. Then we wouldn’t be so flabbergasted by the obvious truth.